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  • From the Workshop of J. J. Abrams: Bad Robot, Networked Collaboration, and Promotional Authorship

    Leora Hadas

    Chapter from the book: Graham J. & Gandini A. 2017. Collaborative Production in the Creative Industries.


    Popular criticism is celebrating a ‘new golden age’ of U.S. television, centred on the figure of the showrunner as television’s new auteur (Martin, 2013; Mittell, 2015): the lone, visionary creator who acts as both absolute creative authority and public face for the show. Increasingly, however, this singular relationship is changing. We now frequently see shows swapping out showrunners, ‘hired-guns’ showrunners working on shows where they are not the original creator, and even shows marketed via the promotional authorship of a figure who is neither creator nor showrunner. A prominent example is the work of production company Bad Robot: shows which are ubiquitously promoted under the name of founder J. J Abrams, while employing as creators and showrunners a tightly knit creative cabal dubbed by Variety the “Abrams fan family” (Littleton, 2009).

    This paper examines Bad Robot’s collaborative practices in the context of authorship as a promotional device and of the auteur as brand. I trace the ways in which a network of like-minded creative workers offers a coherent company brand, and the interaction of this brand with the author brand of Abrams himself. Drawing on comparisons with the historical studio/workshop model of the Italian Renaissance, in which corporate creative work would be validated and branded by the signature of the master, I discuss the Abrams-Bad Robot model as a significant development in a media landscape in which the demand for authorship exceeds possible supply. The paper offers a test case for the potential for such a hybrid of auteurism and corporate authorship in a television industry increasingly concerned with authorship as a promotional device, and its implications for these ideas of authorship, such as the showrunner as auteur.

    Littleton, C. (2009 October 19). Fanboy family fans out. Variety, 461, 1–2.
    Martin, B. (2013) Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From the Sopranos and the Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad. New York: Penguin Press.
    Mittell, J. (2015). Complex TV: The Poetics of Contemporary Television Storytelling. New York: New York University Press.

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    How to cite this chapter
    Hadas, L. 2017. From the Workshop of J. J. Abrams: Bad Robot, Networked Collaboration, and Promotional Authorship. In: Graham J. & Gandini A (eds.), Collaborative Production in the Creative Industries. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book4.f

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    Published on June 29, 2017